More on the Green Mountain Lookout

Haven’t had time for thoughtful responses to the last two posts yet (one of my other volunteer activities is having some difficulties), but here is another story on the Lookout in Wilderness from Joel Connelly of the Seattle PI. The story is here.

Warning: the rhetoric of this article is fairly inflammatory.

As an ultimate test, the lawsuit issue was put to Rick McGuire, a friend and North Cascades Conservation Council board member with whom I have trekked deep into the 573,000-acre Glacier Peak Wilderness.

McGuire grumbles at Forest Service use of helicopters. Still, he adds, “a lot of people like that lookout. It was there even if not in its new improved form, and it seems to be there are way more dire threats out there.”

And that makes the Green Mountain lawsuit even more puzzling.

Wilderness Watch is being represented by the Eugene-based Western Environmental Law Center. The center has taken on “dire threats,” from protecting old-growth forests marked for liquidation to exposing dioxin emissions by Columbia River pulp mills.

Why hassle Green Mountain? Green interlopers from Montana and Oregon should heed locals who love our wilderness areas — and their lookouts. Litigate elsewhere.

6 Comments

  1. This is an interesting debate, and one that hits near “home” for me. I go to school in Missoula, MT (where Wilderness Watch is based) and I’ve worked three seasons for North Cascade National Park, which lies just North of the discussed lookout. I have enjoyed exploring and staying in lookouts throughout the North Cascades.

    I want to keep this brief, which seems to be difficult with these issues. I have two points. First, the repair, maintenance, and reconstruction of fire lookouts in federally designated wilderness areas is not new at all. This doesn’t make it right, but I know for a fact that in North Cascades NP, of which over 99.9% is designated wilderness, has long used helicopters for the maintenance of historic fire lookouts. While flights are limited in number and timing (often only midweek are flights allowed), they are relatively commonplace.

    The other point: this isn’t about ecology. It should clearly be understood that this case is purely about the human experience in wilderness. Helicopter flight is relatively ecologically benign; the other solution to fire lookout maintenance, the maintenance of stock trails, is obviously more ecologically significant. Not saying we should replace the axe and pack animal with a helicopter, as I believe we should push management activities always to the true “minimum tool” whenever possible — that which is least technological.

    Whether or not existing structures should be maintained or left to drift into remnant is a tough one, especially when these very structures often enhance your ability to enjoy the very places we love (staying in the nearby Copper Ridge fire lookout for four days was one of my greatest experiences in wilderness to date). I’m glad Wilderness Watch took up this case. I’m glad because it will make wilderness managers think twice (if they haven’t already) about their actions. Often wilderness managers want to let buildings drift, but the public can’t handle it. Wilderness Watch and this case give managers a solid reason to question the ongoing maintenance so many of the small buildings in wilderness require.

    • The Wilderness Act allows structures for administrative use only. So if the fire lookout is used by the managing agency as a fire lookout, the Act’s structure ban would not apply. But, that’s not the case with the lookout at issue in the Wilderness Watch case. Its use as a lookout had been long abandoned.

      Seems to me the view at the top of the mountain is pretty spectacular with or without a lookout. If one wants to camp on top, bring a tent. If one is looking for more plush accommodations, go to one of the many lookouts that lie outside of wilderness or a ski area condo.

  2. Kip, thanks for your contribution!

    It seems to me like some of this could be solved (at least for new areas designated as wilderness) if we determined in advance:
    what historic structures exist,
    whether they are intended to be used for administrative purposes and maintained,
    whether if not, they should be 1) maintained for historical purposes
    2) allowed to naturally degenerate in situ
    3) be removed as funding permits.

    As for situations in which the management of structures has not been determined through the legislation, it seems to me that development of a general policy might be helpful- otherwise it will be resolved through litigation. I know that this is against the philosophical view that all decisions are best left to the local line officer- yet when consistency is called for, it seems to me that consistency is best addressed through open discussion of potential policies than through litigation on specific cases, with specific facts.

    Maybe litigation can be read as a call for an open policy discussion on an issue.

  3. Yes, the legislation for new wilderness can, and has, solved this issue. When Duggar Mountain in the Talladega NF in Alabama was made wilderness in 1999, the bill gave the USFS two years to remove (by helicopter, approved in the bill) the fire lookout on top, a registered historical structure under the NHPA. The National Guard brought in one of those huge cargo helicopters and whisked the entire thing out in one swoop, and it now resides at the local ranger station.

    If anything, this case illustrates that, along with the endless mess of the roadless rule, it is time to have a discussion about wilderness legislation. Updating the 1964 Act seems in order.

  4. just a contribution to this discussion, one should realize that the “historic lookout” which now sits atop green mountain is largely a replica. The thing was so deteriorated that they essentially rebuilt it. Some recent pics of the lookout can be seen at this URL;
    https://picasaweb.google.com/kgeraght/GreenMtn?authuser=0&feat=directlink

    If they had more or less maintained the thing over the last few decades the situation would be rather different. As it is (and legal and wilderness issues aside) one has to wonder greatly why it is worth it to construct a theme-park replica which has no function, except to act as a prop for the occasional FS greeter (a theme-park employee who has no real function except PR). The structure is not, and has not been for decades, a functioning fire lookout. When one then considers the questionable legality of the construction, and the issues of wilderness ethics, the case for it becomes weaker still.

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